This performance seems to breathe the musical and human spirit of Beethoven’s unique work in a manner surely as near to what he might have heard.
When I did my Gramophone “Collection” survey of this opera in January last year I stated that this Mackerras version, following concert performances at the Edinburgh Festival, was in the wings. Now, here it is, as it were, on stage, and very welcome too. As you would expect from Mackerras, he has much new to say about the work. Where his orchestra are concerned he uses string forces of Beethoven’s day (188.8.131.52.3), narrow-bore trombones, and the kind of natural horns for which Beethoven wrote. All this gives the sound a raw, immediate character that underlines the sense of anRead more equally raw drama being enacted.
Harnoncourt adopted some of these ideas in his Teldec set, but he evinces nothing like the immediacy and edge-of-your-seat experience that Mackerras achieves throughout with his vital, surely integrated reading, tempos always brisk, rhythms accentuated but never to a fault, and plenty of room allowed the singers when they need it – for instance, Leonore and Florestan in their respective scenas. Indeed, the introduction to the latter shows, as well as anything on the set, the advantages of Mackerras’s lean sound and attention to every detail of timbre and articulation; so does the opening of the finale. In these respects Mackerras is the equal of Fricsay on his famous set, now at mid price.
Mackerras puts us further in his debt by including in the work’s finale a passage of recitative for Don Fernando clarifying his motives, cut in 1814. Then in his account of Leonore No. 3, which he adds as a supplement, he uses a version of the score sent to Prague in 1814 that differs in several respects from what we are accustomed to hearing (Mackerras, incidentally, points out that the tradition of playing in between the two scenes of Act 2 dates far further back than Mahler’s time).
For all that Mackerras has to offer, the singers must inevitably play an important part in any decision about buying this set. He has in Kapellmann as biting and ferocious a Pizarro as Maazel’s Tom Krause, superb in his aria and in the Act 2 Quartet of intended murder. The veteran Vogel makes a warm, worldly-wise yet suitably equivocal Rocco. Raimondi and Ainsley do well as the minor lovers and Wilson-Johnson is an articulate if not ideally steady Minister.
Where the two principals are concerned there must be reservations. Benackova makes a more moving Leonore than she did on the Covent Garden video version of the opera (Pioneer), but the role now taxes her resources to their limits with several moments of strain (though she deserves praise for including the tiny cadenza at the end of “Komm, Hoffnung”). Ironically, it is because her sung and spoken enunciation of the text is so clear that we notice her distinct Czech accent. All round she has to give place to the more appealing Margiono on the Harnoncourt and to the often incomparable Rysanek on the Fricsay set, while in the larger-scale, but taut and dramatic Maazel version, Nilsson is as moving as any.
Rolfe Johnson, as at the London Coliseum, offers a deeply affecting Florestan, a man self-evidently at the end of his tether, but the feeling of stress also extends to some of his singing, overlooked in the theatre but not on disc. Of course, in lyrical passages he sings with all his old sensitivity as regards tone and line. He is not at all unlike Fricsay’s Haefliger. Seiffert for Harnoncourt offers better singing than either but doesn’t convey so much of Florestan’s parlous state as Rolfe Johnson.
The male component of the chorus isn’t very unanimous or eloquent as prisoners, but the entire body sings with precision and vigour in the last scene. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as on Mackerras’s versions of Mozart operas, respond with taut yet expressive playing to their conductor’s demands. Just about the right amount of dialogue is included. The Telarc recording is finely balanced and co-ordinated.
So much in this performance seems to breathe the musical and human spirit of Beethoven’s unique work in a manner surely as near to what he might have heard and wanted that it provides a profoundly satisfying experience and the reading is free from the eccentricities that sometimes mar the Harnoncourt version. If you can overlook some vocal shortcomings, this is the modern, ‘authentic’ version to have. But the 40-year-old DG set, where Fricsay also offered a scaled-down reading, still leaps excitingly from the speakers. In a more traditional mode and thrilling as a dramatic experience, the Decca reading has even more to offer in a similar vein and a well-nigh faultless cast, all at mid price.
Fidelio, Op. 72by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor),
Siegfried Vogel (Bass),
Franz Josef Kapellmann (Baritone),
Ildikó Raimondi (Soprano),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor),
David Wilson-Johnson (Bass),
Gabriela Benacková (Soprano)
Sir Charles Mackerras
Scottish Chamber Orchestra,
Edinburgh Festival Chorus
Period: Classical Written: 1804/1814; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 08/1996 Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland Length: 108 Minutes 58 Secs. Language: German Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1804). Composition revised: Vienna, Austria (1806). Composition revised: Vienna, Austria (1814).
Leonore Overture no 3 in C major, Op. 72aby Ludwig van Beethoven Conductor:
Sir Charles Mackerras
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Classical Written: 1805-1806; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 08/1996 Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland Length: 13 Minutes 4 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Fidelio: Act I: "Nun sprecht, wie ging's?"
Fidelio: Act I: "Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht"
Fidelio: Act II: "Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten"
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Half of an OperaMarch 11, 2014By Craig F. (Amenia, NY)See All My Reviews"This is a 2 CD set. The first CD, which was supposed to contain the first half of the opera, was blank, containing no recorded music whatsoever. The second CD was fine, however."Report Abuse